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Man behind Russia's World Cup bid on security, doping and why 'sane' people are looking forward to the 2018 tournament

Asked if even a small part of him is concerned that the World Cup next year could be ripped from Russia’s grasp and relocated, or that it will suffer significant boycotts, the man organising the tournament is adamant.

"No. No, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I wasn’t certain the World Cup was going to be in Russia and that it’s going to be absolutely great."

Alexey Sorokin ran Russia’s original bid, and in a rare and wide-ranging interview with ITV News saved most of his anger for those still trying to ban Russia as hosts.

But he also spoke to me about the threat of violence and racism from Russian hooligans and the long-running criminal investigations into what methods he used to secure Fifa’s vote in the first place.

On the joint FBI/Swiss operation, the hint of a smile emerged as he answered: "We haven’t had a single correspondence that would confirm this investigation is up and going. Plus the bid took place seven years now. Nothing was found in seven years, you think anything would have been found. Probably there was nothing to be discussed."

It’s very clear the whole subject irritates him.

But it didn’t take long to learn Sorokin’s new pet frustration is those people campaigning to ban Russia from hosting any international sports’ event, which would of course include the World Cup.

Most recently this was a group of international anti-doping agencies led by the Americans, who are pushing for Russia to be cast adrift until it has installed a credible anti-doping system.

These calls for a blanket ban follow the recent McLaren report which claimed more than 1,000 Russian athletes, including footballers, were part of a state-sponsored doping system.

"It’s always sad for us to hear that but we’ve heard so many of those we’re almost immune to that, we do not see any reason why we should even be discussing taking the World Cup away. These urges (calls) are completely unfounded, devoid of any logic. It's just sad that people think they are attacking Russia but in fact they’re attacking the very product of the World Cup."

He added, using a carefully chosen description of those who don’t subscribe to McLaren’s findings: "It's very good these calls are very individual, we are happy that all the sane people of the world are looking forward to a great event."

The implication being that anyone who doubts Russia’s right to welcome the world is, to put it politely, not thinking straight.

We met at Russia 2018’s HQ in Moscow, a stone’s throw from the Luzhniki Stadium where the World Cup final will be held.

It is still being refurbished and work there goes on around the clock.

Ironically it is the same venue where Russia’s 1980 Olympics were staged; the Games that were hit by American-inspired boycotts.

The office we sat in belongs to Vitaly Mutko, once Sports Minister and now promoted by President Putin to Deputy Prime Minister.

Many believe Mutko was well aware of Russia’s doping conspiracy but he has always denied it. McLaren didn’t find any evidence to the contrary.

For his part, Sorokin gives the credibility of McLaren’s revelations short shrift.

We cannot agree with that because so far we have not seen any piece of evidence that would corroborate the statement.

I’m certain this is completely unfounded, groundless and again it’s sad that some people link so called 'evidence' given by one witness (former director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory and now whistle-blower, Grigory Rodchenkov), considered not credible by many entities, by many personalities and the World Cup.

We don’t see any link between the McLaren report and organising the World Cup.

– Alexey Sorokin

Sorokin’s side swipes at Russia's critics are understated but direct. His English is impeccable; his political agility impressive.

He also knows that at this late stage, it is inconceivable that the World Cup can uproot and be planted elsewhere on schedule. An alternative country might own the best stadia in the world but that is just a small part of hosting an event on this scale.

So what guarantees can he offer British fans if they travel to Moscow and beyond next summer?

Particularly the massed English contingent who were caught up in the stomach-churning violence in Marseilles during the European Championships.

While some Three Lions supporters are quite capable of extremely anti-social, even criminal behaviour themselves, there is no question their Russian counterparts came trained, equipped and determined to cause carnage in the French port.

Sorokin says there is no chance of a repeat of Marseilles.

Sorokin says there is no chance of a repeat of violent clashes as seen last year in Marseilles during the European Championships. Credit: AP

"Of course we took into account what happened in France but we have a comprehensive and sound security plan," he said.

That involves a fan ID scheme and intelligence sharing that will prevent hooligans getting into games in the first place.

But he plays down any suggestion that home grown trouble-makers are the ones likely to cause the most problems, despite the overwhelming evidence from France.

While in Moscow we spoke to Alexander Shprygin, the notorious leader of the Russian fan union who was deported twice from the Euros last summer accused of being involved in and helping to orchestrate the Marseilles violence.

Shprygin is a Dynamo Moscow fan but says the clubs he admires in England are Chelsea and Millwall. According to official observers for UEFA, he’s right at the heart of a network of extreme-right ultras in Russian football.

He still doesn’t know whether the Moscow authorities, who seemed fairly ambivalent to the trouble in France at the time, will allow him to any World Cup games.

Surprisingly though, given his CV, Shprygin’s convinced the scenes which marred the Euros, won’t occur in Russia. The difference is, he says, that while the French police allowed Marseilles to happen, there is no chance the Russian authorities would be as lenient. As a result he says, the thugs will stay away.

“The whole approach to the system of security in Russia absolutely eliminates any clashes at stadia, and in towns special security measures will be introduced and I can hardly imagine that the police in Russia would allow something like that fighting.”

Shprygin even suggests the real trouble-makers are so wary of the security services they might just leave the country for the duration of the tournament.

"I think that all top boys of the Russian football firms will be better off leaving for Turkey for a month in June 2018, so those guys could prove that they were not in Russia, showing a border stamp in a passport, just in case those guys would be questioned by authorities they would have a proof of their absence," he said.

When challenged about racism on Russian terraces and the threat towards towards black players or fans, Shprygin says the issue is blown out of all proportion.

It is one of the issues he and Alexey Sorokin agree on.

What is more, Sorokin insists racism is a declining problem and wrongly portrayed as peculiar to Russia.

"The problem is not indigenous to Russia, it is universal and is dealt with in a universal manner," he said.

"If you see the records, previously we had individual cases of racism but I wouldn’t say that it is systemic. It is individual cases but they have reduced in number significantly, I haven’t heard recently a single incident that would be racist by nature."

There is much still to keep Alexey Sorokin awake at night as the countdown clock continues to eat away at the time left available to him.

Most of the challenges ahead are within his control. The only thing he seems powerless to change, for the time being, is the nature of the questions he’s asked.

It might well be wishful thinking, but very soon he hopes football will replace controversy as the only talking point around Russia 2018.